Top L.A. Legend #14: Sylvie The Silver Lake Serpent

March 7, 2007 at 11:00 am in History

It’s said that where there’s smoke there’s fire and where there’s water there’s bound to be some sort of reclusive and zoologically ambiguous monster lurking deep in the murk. Some of the famous ones you’ve undoubtedly heard about: Nessie of Scotland’s Loch Ness, Ogopogo in British Columbia’s Okanagan Lake, and Lake Champlain’s Champ in Upstate New York.

Here in Los Angeles our bodies of water are mostly manmade, but that hasn’t stopped people from swearing that they’ve seen something strange swimming in them. Harbor Park’s Lake Machado may host its very own and very real reptile Reggie (although no one’s seen him for quite awhile, which can only mean he’s now 25 feet long and moved into the sewer system), but it’s the Silver Lake Reservoir that is home to a far more elusive and long-lived creature, appropriately nicknamed Sylvie and allegedly pictured in this undated photograph taken from a vehicle moving along the water’s east bank.

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Certainly it’s easy to apply fact and science and reality or an awareness of some really crap Photoshop skills in an attempt to readily debunk the existence of such an animal, but that doesn’t stop area residents from vehemently claiming they’ve seen Sylvie, and in this relatively laid-back enclave, the credo “live and let live” apparently applies to all inhabitants, whether they reside in or out of the water.

But things were much different back in 1951.

drained.jpgIn the early days of the Red Scare, it seemed as if people were looking for evil wherever they could find it (or invent it). And after a closely grouped series of of sightings of what came to be sensationalized as the “Silver Lake Serpent,” the LADWP took the drastic measure of draining the entire reservoir (pictured at right). Officially the action was taken because of a reported need to replace the 36-inch main pipe with a larger-capacity 60-inch conduit, but skeptics allege that was just a cover and that the real reason for the costly project was an attempt to either destroy the beast or disprove its existence.

They either did both or did neither depending on who you asked. That Sylvie or her remains were never found was lauded as a victory by DWP and city officials, but to the quiet contingent of her fans she was simply smart enough to make her escape downstream as the water level dropped, and the larger replacement pipe was a bonus because it would better enable her return — especially if she grew bigger.

How much bigger? Well, in 2004 the image below, albeit unauthenticated and resoundingly dismissed as a hoax (especially by DWP brass), was widely circulated. And rumors have abounded since last August as to the true cause behind a security guard losing control of his patrol vehicle and driving it into the north end of the reservoir. Some say it was sleep deprivation. But others say it had to be Sylvie what sent him for a swim.

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L.A. Top 25 Legends: The Guide

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